Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said college managers are paid pound;6,000 a year less than people in comparable jobs in private industry, while lecturers' starting salaries continue to lag behind those of their counterparts in schools by pound;2,800 a year.
He said more money is needed for staff training and financial help for students.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Association for College Management, Mr Barber said: "We really need a better deal for the staff who work in colleges if we are going to deliver the Government's programme."
Mr Barber said he supported the Government's plans, outlined in the Success for All campaign, but would continue to demand more money in talks with ministers.
He said: "The TUC welcomes Success for All as an end to the market-driven approach and a recognition of the vital role of FE colleges.
"There have been eight such initiatives over the last 25 years but I think we can have confidence this time. Now, there is recognition that we can't deliver without high-quality vocational education.
"But we have been putting pressure on government for better funding for FE.
There is no reason why there should not be parity for FE and HE funding, including funding for student support.
"We need to destroy the myth that not going to university constitutes failure.
"We need to value and reward those who work at the sharp end in colleges.
"Colleges need resources as well as recognition to put FE on an equal footing with HE."
He said the number of union learning representatives is expected to increase from 7,000 at present to 21,000 in the next four years and he welcomed the fact they now have the right to take time off for training.
The TUC plans to get half a million people into education through the work of learning reps.
The ACM joined the TUC last year and has become one of the fastest-growing unions, although it retains its status as a professional association.